Hidden Impact of the iPad on Your Corporate Website?

Even though the iPad appears to be a device for Apple fans, gadget freaks, tech savvy consumers, etc., it is already positioned to have a significant impact on the nature and shape of corporate websites. The adoption and growth rate of specialized content consumption devices such as Smart Phones, Tablets, and Net Books can no longer be simply ignored. B2B and especially B2C companies need to ensure that their websites not just “function” on the iPad and other similar devices but they must provide a good user experience. Just as higher bandwidths and more powerful computers once changed static websites forever the new content consumption devices are positioned to do the same again. The buzz around the iPad and its successful launch means that any future website planning and upgrades need to keep the new realities in mind.

Perhaps the most talked about aspect of the iPad browsing has been lack of support for the Adobe Flash. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has termed Flash buggy, a CPU hog, and a security risk. Regardless of whether you agree with Jobs or not, recent trends in website design and development do point towards less Flash usage for various reasons. HTML 5 is being touted as the new replacement and many key companies and websites have already adopted it. Therefore any decision to use Flash or to continue supporting existing Flash applications should be weighted carefully. Many major websites like WSJ, NPR, USA Today, and NYT are doing away with Flash and taking a dual approach of providing the iPad optimized apps and rolling out new Flash-less websites.

Still common among corporate websites are the slide out menus that require constant cursor presence which makes for not so friendly experience for the finger based navigation. Touch interfaces are rapidly gaining in popularity and are no longer limited to Smart Phones and Tablets, some of the newer laptops also support them. Another implication of touch interface is that links that are too small or too close to each other make it difficult for users to click them and create a frustrating user experience. The ever shrinking size of buttons and links now needs to be reconsidered and their placement must also be rethought. Touch is here to stay and sites need to evolve to ensure they are “touch” friendly.

In the days immediately following Netscape’s collapse, Internet Explorer became the king of browsers and any corporate website needed only to be tested with 2 or 3 versions of Internet Explorer. Since then FireFox, Chrome, and Safari have gained significant market share, and any updates to the corporate website must once again be tested against a plethora of browsers. Safari has hitched a ride with the iPhone and the iPad and therefore requires special consideration in ensuring that the corporate website renders and functions well. However, browsers no longer hold a monopoly on being the sole interface to the internet content.  The rise of proprietary apps providing customized experience means now there is a challenger to the mighty browser. Major media sites like NYT, WSJ, BBC, etc. all have rolled out their iPhone and iPad apps which provide a highly controlled experience outside of the browser.  

The iPad’s larger screen provides an excellent full-page browsing experience. However, number of sites treat the iPad as a mobile client and serve up the mobile version of the web-site. In most cases user can click on the full-site link and access the standard website but that is cumbersome to the users. Websites now need to differentiate between smaller mobile clients where limited mobile version of the website makes sense and newer larger content consumption devices like the iPad where nothing but the full-site will do. Needless to say the iPad and other similar devices are creating a new reality and the corporate websites need to take notice or risk being considered old and obsolete.

Augmented Reality – What a great idea!

First a confession is in order – I’m not a big fan of cell phone cameras.  In the corporate world, they are sometimes banned or considered a nuisance.  In talking around the water cooler, cell phone cameras are terrific for documenting car accidents, especially when you aren’t at fault.  However an exciting use for cell phone cameras has emerged from Europe – augmented reality.  If you are unfamiliar with the concept of augmented reality, think of the Terminator movies.  When the robot looks at a person, scene or object, there is a set of facts or augmented information presented as a layer on top of the picture.  terminator_2_large_16For fighter pilots, the heads up display while looking forward out of the canopy is another good example of augmented reality.

The idea that you can point your cell phone camera at the scene in front of you and immediately through a “reality” browser see overlays of information about shops, restaurants and other facts is exciting and potentially game-changing for tourism, advertising, and mobile browsing in general.   Using the location-based services for cell phones, especially smartphones with built in GPS features, the software creates a “layer” of information on top of the picture.  In fact, the company, sprxmobile, driving this capability has a product called Layar that enables real time digital information on top of reality through the camera of a cell phone.  Their web site lists 87 available layers in many verticals including real estate, healthcare, transportation, tourism, entertainment, weather, schools and universities, and local search and directory services.  Today, the new software is limited to the Android operating system used in Google-oriented cell phones, but hopefully the idea will grab mainstream attention and move to other major smartphone operating systems.

Clearly, adding this reality layer service to browsers has broad applications beyond cell phones, however there are immediate applications for mobile users that come to mind.  Standing in front of a house for sale, pointing the camera at the home and seeing the price, number of bedrooms, etc. would be great.  Even better would be the ability to compare augmented information from a snapshot of a home up the street.  The application could capture the location based information from the cell phone with the picture and enhance the search experience.  Think about the impact of digital photography to grab GPS coordinates for adding information automatically or posting location information to Flickr, for example.

Augmented reality may be the “killer” application for smartphones beyond the obvious contact and calendar management.  The ability to add the value of layers of actionable information to where you are immediately located could revolutionize personal computing as well. The ease of adding this type of service to a browser demonstrates the power of both web services and mash-ups. My hope would be that it doesn’t simply add more advertising to our world, but ease traveling, shopping, navigating universities and large sporting venues and bring us actionable information in real time.  It is an exciting technology that needs to be nurtured and adopted for mainstream cell phones.